The government has been accused of undermining its ambition to make England smoke free after an anti-smoking campaign was cancelled following a 24% cut to the public health marketing budget.
Health Harms, a Public Health England (PHE) scheme, has previously sought to harness new year resolutions in January to encourage the 6 million tobacco smokers in the country to quit through vaping and visualising how cancer-causing chemicals and tar are inhaled.
Rates of smoking are declining, also thanks to the introduction of plain packaging and tax increases, but the government has been urged not to be “complacent” after it emerged the overall anti-smoking budget had been reduced to £3.8m from £5m.
Smokers in England light up 1.5bn fewer cigarettes a year
The move came after PHE’s marketing budget was cut by a fifth earlier this year, from about £35m to £28m.
“Slashing budgets for these campaigns is a foolhardy decision which not only lets down smokers who are looking to quit but will also result in further pressure on the NHS due to smoking-related illnesses,” warned British Lung Foundation’s (BLF) senior policy officer Rachael Hodges.
“Although smoking rates are declining, we must not be complacent. Mass media campaigns are vital in encouraging smokers to quit and stay smoke free.”
The charity added the drop in funding “undermines the government’s aim to make England smoke free by 2030” since “mass media campaigns are essential in helping people quit”.
It said PHE’s 28-day “Stoptober” campaign had resulted in fewer successful quit attempts after less advertising coverage on TV and radio.
The rate of successful attempts to quit fell from 8% of all smokers in 2015 to 6% in 2016 after spending on media messaging was reduced from £3.1m to £390,000, according to the charity.
Overall, the Stoptober campaign is believed to have led to almost 2 million attempts to quit since 2012 and the BLF said there was evidence showing stop smoking campaigns were effective in helping people kick the habit.
Around 78,000 people in the UK die as a result of smoking each year, making it one of the country’s biggest causes of death and illness. Many more live with debilitating smoking-related illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and pneumonia.
The BLF urged the Treasury to “reinstate comprehensive funding for both Stoptober and the January Health Harms campaign”, saying smoking “costs society more than £11bn per year” of which “£2.5bn falls directly on the NHS”.
In the September spending review the chancellor, Sajid Javid, announced an unspecified “real terms increase to the public health grant budget”.
It followed sustained cuts which caused spending on public health services by councils to fall 8% from 2013/14 to 2017/18, leading to “dramatic” changes in the availability of stop smoking services, according to Action on Smoking and Public Health.
“Within the available money, campaigns have been reprioritised, with the agreement of ministers – with an emphasis on the best start to life, continuing to tackle tobacco harm, raising awareness of the symptoms of cancer, tackling antimicrobial resistance and promoting good mental health,” PHE’s chief executive, Duncan Selbie, said.
The government agency said the eradication of smoking and the realisation of a smoke-free society remained a focus.
It previously warned that smokers were “disproportionately represented in the poorest, oldest and the most challenged groups” and is responsible for a “significant proportion” of the inequality in health outcomes between rich and poor.
This content was originally published here.